With a week to go it still feels surreal that I’ll be going back to Anfield (via Carrow Road first). And if social media is anything to go by, there’s no point – no investment, no transfers, no replacements, no hope … Once I’m there though it’ll be, I’m sure, like I’ve never been away. Optimistic? 100%.
Key players/weak links We, more than most, play as a complete unit, which was proved last season when we banded together to keep going before and after that collective drop in form. Of course Salah and Mané, who didn’t have the best year, will have a big say, as will Thiago and Van Dijk. The worry is what injuries will do to us, just like last time around.
Young talent Nat Phillips, Rhys Williams, Neco Williams. There’ll be more opportunities for Curtis Jones, who’s still only 20, and there’s a lot of talk again surrounding Harvey Elliott if he remains back in the squad. Plus Ibrahima Konaté is only 22.
We still need to buy A striker. I know rumours have been scratched already, but I liked the idea of Nicolò Barella. And a midfielder – Youri Tielemans?
Headline maker Thiago is always at the centre of what’s going on: first on the scene at tackles, decisions and fights, always talking, cajoling the ref, mediating, pleading, moving the opposition along … But the boss still makes the most headlines, to take the pressure off.
We will finish 1st; Top four 1 Liverpool 2 Man City 3 Chelsea 4 Man Utd; Bottom three 18 Palace 19 Brentford 20 Watford; First manager sacked Xisco Muñoz.
Very optimistic – why wouldn’t I be? Granted, our preparation hasn’t been the best with so many key players not involved pre-season, but all the big teams are in the same boat. We’re still coming into the season off the back of a domestic double, a Champions League final and an FA Cup semi, all in a pandemic-hit season. It’s an absurd list of achievements. Pep looks revitalised, so I’m expecting a very strong title defence. Add to that, in Grealish we’ve signed the best creative talent in the league who isn’t called Kevin De Bruyne. Things are looking pretty rosy.
Key players/weak links As ever, De Bruyne will be absolutely crucial, and Foden will be pivotal too. His foot injury is a worry. Funnily enough though, I think the key player is likely to be one that hasn’t arrived yet, and may not arrive at all – Harry Kane. We’re crying out for a No 9 after Agüero’s departure. I don’t think we can persist with the false 9 system for ever.
Young talent If he doesn’t go out on loan, then watch out for Liam Delap. His goal record at youth record is phenomenal and Pep’s already gone on the record about how highly he rates him.
We still need to buy Harry Kane. Or, if that’s not possible, Lionel Messi. I’ve heard he’s decent.
Headline maker Grealish will add a lot, both on and off the pitch. The lid, the calves, the chat. Jack’s a proper cult hero, as we all saw over the summer. Most importantly though, he will ease the creative burden on De Bruyne, which should allow us to manage Kevin’s minutes and injuries better.
We will finish 1st; Top four 1 Man City 2 Chelsea 3 Man Utd 4 Liverpool; Bottom three 18 Burnley 19 Norwich 20 Watford; First manager sacked Xisco Muñoz.
Slowly but surely we’re closing the gap. Varane is one of the best centre‑halves in the world, Sancho one of the most exciting youngsters, and the options going forward in this team are immense. I just hope the lack of investment in midfield doesn’t let us down. This is now clearly Solskjær’s team: he needs to win a trophy.
Key players/weak links Varane will steady the defence, Cavani oozes quality and Fernandes has shown that when he plays well, United play well. Greenwood continues to develop, too. The weak links remain Pogba and his agent, who’ll no doubt be making plenty of noise as his client under-performs and runs down his contract
Young talent Elanga has impressed in pre-season: he’s pacy and can play either side as well as through the middle. I am hoping he will get games.
We still need to buy In an ideal world we’d find a Kanté or Ndidi to play alongside our creative midfielders. We can’t afford to play both Fred and McTominay as defensive midfielders if we want to make a real challenge.
Headline makers The fans, for once. We’re back, and I’ll never take it for granted again. And what a corker of a start: Leeds at a full Old Trafford.
We will finish 1st; Top four 1 Man Utd 2 Man City 3 Liverpool 4 Chelsea; Bottom three 18 Newcastle 19 Watford 20 Norwich; First manager sacked Bruno Lage.
It’s groundhog day. For a club in the grip of the dead hand of Mike Ashley, the story rarely changes. A relegation battle, cup surrenders … that’s pretty much what we expect these days. Graeme Jones’s arrival in January seemed to spark an upturn so it’ll be good to have him on board from the start. But with Steve Bruce still in the dugout, there’s not much hope of scintillating football.
Key players/weak links We have an embarrassment of riches in goal, with Dubravka, Darlow and Woodman. Keeping Saint-Maximin, Wilson and Almirón fit (and at the club) is crucial. But you have to ask how many of our players would get a regular start in last season’s top 10 teams. The depressing answer tells you where we are as a club: there to make up the numbers.
Young talent Thanks to Ashley’s neglect of our academy there are no outstanding prospects – Woodman excepted. It would have been heart-warming to see Geordie brothers Sean and Matty Longstaff running our midfield, but it doesn’t look like they’ll get the chance.
We still need to buy Joe Willock, who injected life into the team last season. And given Andy Carroll’s departure and the paltry return from Gayle and Joelinton, a new striker, or two.
Headline maker Saint-Maximin. A fan favourite not just for his weaving runs and community spirit: he’s a comedy genius on Twitter. Especially when he’s winding up the Mackems.
We will finish 17th; Top four 1 Man City 2 Chelsea 3 Liverpool 4 Everton; Bottom three 18 Burnley 19 Palace 20 Brentford; First manager sacked Mikel Arteta.
David and Richard Holmes
Quiet optimism here – though I’m aware that being an optimistic Norwich fan while we’re in the top flight is the mother of all juxtapositions. It rarely turns out well for us, but the miracles performed by technical director Stuart Webber and Daniel Farke under colossal financial constraints have been extraordinary. They’ve earned our blind faith.
Key players/weak links Pukki is again key to any chance of survival, as is Cantwell, if he stays. We still have a creative void after Emi Buendía’s exit. Defensively, if Grant Hanley can show the form of last season, with us and at the Euros, he could have an enormous impact. A massively underrated player who’s far from the “slow, cumbersome” centre-back he’s perceived to be by some lazy pundits. As for weaknesses: we need to be quicker, stronger and more athletic than two seasons ago, when we were far too easily bullied.
Young talent Andrew Omobamidele, 19: a cool, calm Irish centre-back.
We still need to buy Reinforcements across the board, apart from in goal. Missing out on Kristoffer Ajer was a blow. We also tried and failed to loan Oliver Skipp for another season.
Headline maker I’m not sure we’ll see too much of him, but German/Cuban winger Onel Hernández is gloriously mad as a box of frogs. He loves Argos.
We will finish 17th; Top four 1 Man City 2 Chelsea 3 Liverpool 4 Man Utd; Bottom three 18 Burnley 19 Watford 20 Brentford; First manager sacked Xisco Muñoz.
It’s all a bit “meh”, really. Last season ended as a proper damp squib after the unexpected highs of being top in November, and it feels like there’s a lot riding on having a proper pre-season and a non-exhausting fixture list to turn around the slump.
Key players/weak links Che Adams will have to step up with Ings gone. Defensively we’re often a bit of a coin flip, so the understanding between whichever keeper we pick (and hopefully stick with) and the defenders in front of him will be crucial. Ward-Prowse’s set pieces will also be very important: there aren’t many clubs with that sort of armoury so we need to make the most of it.
Young talent No really obvious candidates this year as we’ve let a few who had promise depart for guaranteed first-team football, and Will Smallbone suffered an ACL injury that’ll keep him out until Christmas.
We still need to buy A striker, another full-back (playing Moussa Djenepo as a stand-in left-back isn’t a great prospect) and another centre-back.
Headline maker Not many mavericks here but Djenepo will probably provide some moments of inspiration and some moments of madness.
We will finish 14th; Top four 1 Man City 2 Liverpool 3 Man Utd 4 Chelsea; Bottom three 18 Burnley 19 Brentford 20 Norwich; First manager sacked Bruno Lage.
Am I optimistic? To be entertained, yes. After all, Spurs break the mould when it comes to new ways of encouraging hope to murder the fanbase.
Key players/weak links As it stands, it’s hard to say: too many unknowns. Cristian Romero should be a pivotal, though. I’m hoping he links up with Joe Rodon to give us the experience we deserve. As for weak links? In the kindest way possible, I’d say Moussa Sissoko. Not because I dislike him but because if this rebuild is going to work, we need to reshape the squad and Siss is a reminder of an erratic past.
Young talent Bryan Gil looks pretty tasty. Spurs are spoilt here to be fair. Dane Scarlett and Alfie Devine are not unknown to us either. With the Conference League in mind, we might get more than just the occasional cameo from the academy lads. Also, that Dele Alli looks decent.
We still need to buy How do you replace a club icon if he wants out? You don’t. You can’t. You just have to hope that we’re blessed again. Spurs need a striker. Anyone will do.
Headline maker With Lamela and José gone, Spurs might be a touch … dare I say … boring this season. Or functional. Professional. Levy will obviously be the constant target and if Kane goes to City, no doubt our fanbase will obsess about the penalty merchant’s form at the Eastlands.
We will finish 4th, because I always believe that Spurs will harness the magic of accidental heroism. It’s when you least expect it that we end up performing well. Top four 1 Man City 2 Man United 3 Chelsea 4 Spurs (lol); Bottom three 18 Arsenal 19 Watford 20 Brentford; First manager sacked Mikel Arteta.
It’s football. And a bit closer to normal, hopefully, with fans and that. The rest is just detail really … But for what it’s worth, we retain a lot of the experience that kept us up for five seasons. Much as our incoming transfer activity was conducted early, the contract stand-offs with Chalobah and Hughes are something we could have done without; the mention of Crystal Palace in the same breath as the latter is particularly unwelcome. If both renew, I’ll be bouncing off the ceiling.
Key players/weak links Sarr is the ace in the pack, but only one of a number of quick forwards. The mythical Cucho Hernández has finally arrived in Hertfordshire four years after signing, he looks huge fun. Sierralta and Troost-Ekong will face sterner tests than those dismissed with a thwack and a yawn last season. The central attacking role, whether filled by Troy or one of a million other options, is the big question.
Young talent A large number of young recruits have come in, but we’ve not seen enough of them to judge readiness. Joseph Hungbo impressed at the end of last season, Tom Dele-Bashiru has recovered from an injury sustained at the end of 2020. Both would have had more of a run in a Championship season, you suspect. However we have a load of sons of famous fathers, which could be fun: Maurizio (son of Mauricio) Pochettino, Mattie (son of Jamie) Pollock, Henry (son of Dennis) Wise, as well as several whose fathers were less celebrated. Mitchel Bergkamp was sadly released this summer.
We still need to buy It depends on the contract stand-offs. But we could use more physical presence in midfield.
Headline maker Hoping Xisco’s grin is as dominant a feature this season as it was last.
We will finish 15th; Top four 1 Man City 2 Chelsea 3 Liverpool 4 Man Utd; Bottom three 18 Newcastle 19 Wolves 20 Palace; First manager sacked Mikel Arteta.
We’ve got to be excited, going on a European tour after a massive improvement last season. Areola is a good signing and could be the long-term successor to Fabianski, but we need to strengthen further to compete on two fronts. Europa League trips could lead to an associated league form slump, while the smaller clubs like Spurs and Arsenal will have improved, so we’ll do well to match last season’s sixth.
Key players/weak links Rice just gets better, while the consistency of super-Czechs Soucek and Coufal is vital – they rarely have a bad game. Ogbonna is key at the back and Bowen should benefit from his second season. Meanwhile, Antonio will be both a vital player and a weak link: if the scientists who invented the Covid vaccine could find a drug to solve his hamstring issues we’d be immensely grateful.
Young talent Budding playwright Ben Johnson will continue to get some games, as might Conor Coventry in the Europa League. Jamal Baptiste has been compared to a young Rio Ferdinand and the admirably-named winger Armstrong Oko-Flex, signed from Celtic, could be one for the future.
We still need to buy A couple of strikers to cover for Antonio, a central midfielder (Alex Kral perhaps?) and a centre-back — Zouma would be good. The biggest achievement will be keeping hold of Declan Rice — he didn’t do a very good job of keeping under the radar at the Euros.
Headline maker The strength of the Moyes regime is that we seem to be off the back pages. Even David Sullivan has been quiet. Hopefully some silly Tik-Tok-inspired Antonio celebrations will be as controversial as it gets.
We will finish 8th; Top four 1 Man City 2 Man Utd 3 Chelsea 4 Liverpool; Bottom three 18 Burnley 19 Watford 20 Brentford; First manager sacked Xisco Muñoz.
I’m nervous. I felt we were lucky to get the points total we achieved last season and we haven’t done a fat lot in the summer to address our main deficiency – scoring goals. But with Raúl Jiménez back and looking sharp, maybe it will all come good?
Key players/weak links Raúl will be key because good strikers always make a difference. We also need to hold on to Traoré, especially with Neto out for a few months. Francisco Trincão has arrived on loan from Barcelona with a solid reputation and we really need him to fire, but I’m concerned he may struggle with the physicality of the Premier League.
Young talent Morgan Gibbs-White is still just 21 and this feels like the now-or-never season for him at Wolves. I also like the look of Owen Otasowie in midfield. He’s got the stature and skill to develop into something special – I hope we manage to keep him.
We still need to buy Another attacker: there just aren’t enough goals in this team. We already own Rafa Mir, who scored hatfuls in La Liga last season, but it sounds like we’re cashing in.
Headline maker Conor Coady is always up for a laugh: expect more post-match back-and-forth on Sky.
We will finish 12th; Top four 1 Liverpool 2 Man City 3 Man Utd 4 Chelsea; Bottom three 18 Brentford 19 Watford 20 Norwich; First manager sacked Xisco Muñoz.